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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look: 24.11%
Average: 25%
Pretty Bad29.46%
Total Crap: 8.93%

7 reviews, 70 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Everytime Someone Says ‘It’s Over’ – It NEVER IS!"
2 stars

Dreamgirls, the film version of the Tony-award winning musical, arrives with an awfully large ensemble of baggage. Loosely based on the story of the Supremes, Diana Ross largely disowned the show to the dismay of virtually no one. After several announcements going back to the 1980s, the film went through many possible incarnations as vehicles for Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill only to continually be shelved. Finally the day dawns last year when Dreamworks and Bill Condon have committed to the project and Oscarwatchers immediately lock it up for the next golden race. Casting decisions, one after one, begin getting pre-engraved nameplates to be unveiled in February 2007. That’s a lot to live up to – especially for a cliché-riddled storyline populated by unsympathetic characters and songs that repetitively bleed into one another to the point where we curse Motown for the R&B movement altogether.

Beginning in the early 60s, although the film makes no effort to graft a coherent timeline, the song trio known as The Dreamettes are desperate to get on the bill for an Amateur night competition. While they are best friends and share the spotlight equally, the lead is the strongest voice coming from full-figured Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) while the more humble Deena Jones (Beyonce) and eager Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) march to her tune. Recognizing their talent (and other comely features) is car salesman/burgeoning theatrical promoter, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) who bribes the competition into snubbing them so he can take over as management. After a bit of resistence from Diva Effie (“I don’t do backup”), Curtis gets them a gig doing the “oohs” and “aaahs” behind James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy) on his tour across America.

The act is by all means a success but Early is still desperate to find a new sound. (Too bad Marty McFly wasn’t around.) Effie’s brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson), long their songwriter pitches Early a more pop-centric ditty to the chagrin of his longtime manager, Marty Madison (Danny Glover), who sees his client slipping away to the promises of Curtis. The ridiculously lame song, “Cadillac Car” is made all the lamer once whitey gets a hold of it, leading Curtis and the others to follow headstrong into the Payola scandal of the day to get their music heard. But money only goes so far as Early’s attempts to crossover into white America are met with baffled looks and walkouts. Curtis then finally succumbs to making Effie’s dream come true by giving their girls their own act, albeit with one little change. Deena is taking over as lead vocal.

Before someone starts singing again and interrupts me, we’re going to take a pause break away from the myriad of problems Dreamgirls has and focus on the character of Effie. This is the character that we are supposed to sympathize with as her dreams go up in smoke, but when you back away from Jennifer Hudson’s powerful voice, this is an awfully difficult character to wrap your arms around. She’s loud, continually pouty and has the first instinct to consider her own needs before anyone else. Then the shift occurs at the first curtain where Effie will either mount a comeback, having learned something about her behavior and inspiring our cheers for overcoming the royal screw job she received – OR – she will settle into obscurity and gain our sympathy. The story cannot make up its mind any which way and decides to give us a taste a both right up to a phonier-than-thou ending where you begin to imagine what it would be like to pay good money to see the Beatles’ final public performance and have them bring up Stu Sutcliffe for the final song (if, you know, he was still alive.)

The emotional connection for any of the relationships or to the individual characters is non-existent and that’s thanks in good parts to Bill Condon’s handling of the musical numbers. More than half are of the stage performance variety, interrupted frequently with a tendency to montage that isn’t uncommon in musicals, but done in such a way that screams were watching a montage (of money, traveling, success) instead of vital storytelling points. So when Condon does sneak in talking points right in the middle of songs, its not viable as anything but rushed information and an interruption of whatever the song itself wants to tell us. Unlike Alan Parker’s Evita which paused for no more than a breath in-between songs, Condon seems hesitant in fully going down that road and so scenes of actual conversation are nothing more than expository dialogue providing no insight or feeling into these characters’ issues. And yet, the film feels like one long anthem with the needle continually skipping back upon itself. The supposed showstopping moment at the end of Act I, with Effie doing the Diva equivalent of a nine-minute guitar riff is so overblown and show-Effie that I was praying to the Gods of Motown that Ike Turner would show up and put some stank on her so she would finally just shut the crap up.

It will be easy to meld Hudson’s “performance” with her performance, thus fueling the yearlong speculation that she’s the front runner for the Oscar. But no one nominated Renee Zellweger for her singing in Chicago. Hudson certainly shows promise as an actress, but this story does a disservice to that promise by never allowing a range to her character. Not once does she share with us a moment of regret, of sadness or anything in Act II. She’s just making less money and caring for a daughter who is used as nothing more than a plot prop to accentuate the “poor me” element of the struggling ex-Diva. Would it have killed Condon to include just ONE scene of Effie caring for her kid, maybe reassuring her that her own dreams are worth following even in a world that may tell you to quit. Great role model there – and this is, again, the character we’re supposed to sympathize with. As the character inspired by Supreme’s original member, Florence Ballard, there’s a somewhat iniquitous maneuver in both the stage production and the film to give her the third act she never had. In real life, Ballard’s non-success after leaving the group ended in poverty and death at the age of only 32. If Effie even came close to this bout of depression, its misrepresented in the story and has the curious feel of a whitewash that Ms. Ross would have approved of.

Every actor in the film does the best with what they’re given. Foxx is smooth ad manipulative as Curtis, much better in the earlier scenes than the character’s transition to full-blown heavy. Beyonce, nearly unrecognizable in the beginning (and curiously less attractive the more makeup is painted on), basically gets the puppy dog role in the character we expect to grow into a ruthless drunk of fame. Thus, she is alternately the weakest of character in the whole film, unable to open her mouth in protest when she clearly wants to resulting in curiously subdued moments of independence and reconciliation towards the end. As for Eddie Murphy, we know he can pull off the flamboyance of the James Brown meets Little Richard (with a late dash of Elvis Costello thrown in) concoction. His J.B. hottub impersonation is still an SNL classic and two of the film’s best moments - when Early breaks protocol by busting into the material he claims he originated – may as well have ended with him slamming down the mike and shouting out “SEXUAL CHOCOLATE!” It’s his quieter Marvin Gaye moments that give Murphy’s Oscar push the resonance it needs because nothing else he does here we haven’t seen him do better in Bowfinger, The Nutty Professor and, yes, Coming To America.

I’m not busting Dreamgirls for being the product of overhype and precisely the sort of film that would have given Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration a better bullseye. Almost Famous, The Commitments, That Thing You Do – what separates Dreamgirls from the Music Group 101 of rise, fall and maybe comeback other than skin color? I could have thrown The Five Heartbeats onto the list, except that’s not a good movie either. But so many musicals, like the recent film versions of Rent and The Phantom of the Opera, fail even without the glowering clichés that Dreamgirls unapologetically flaunt as if it was the first story to come up with it – a bit of supreme irony once you’ve sat through it’s theft twists the third time in the film. There’s not one song you will walk out of the viewing humming and that’s because, unlike a late theme introduced, these songs are for the individual performers and not for us. It’s not about joy for us but pity for themselves, inspiring nobody’s dreams in the process.

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originally posted: 12/15/06 16:17:19
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User Comments

10/21/08 mr.mike I am not a fan of musicals. I was entertained. 4 stars
10/14/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 2 stars
9/06/08 Rada Sarbu I only watched it because I'm a fan of Beyonce. Otherwise I wouldn't have seen it. Its good 4 stars
8/18/08 Jeff Wilder An uplifting film with some genuine well-directed anger at the death of soul , 4 stars
7/30/08 the dork knight Not bad.........for what it is. Jamie Foxx is tiresome as usual 3 stars
3/18/08 RF This movie was so overhyped. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson made this movie worth watc 3 stars
7/05/07 Piz Fairly ho-hum and predictable the entire way, got worse as it went along 3 stars
5/15/07 Nita This movie was good!! Jennifer Hudson has a strong voice...Beyonce needs to sit down! 3 stars
5/14/07 Geoff It was a waste of time. Music was awful. 2 stars
5/09/07 Kerenda I reaaly love this move I cant stop watching it 5 stars
5/06/07 Total Crap I laughed everytime they sang during an argument. This movie is so fake but hudson was ok. 2 stars
5/04/07 Wendy Craig Maybe half an hour worth of story drawn out to 2+ hours. Yawn! 2 stars
4/29/07 David Pollastrini didn't think much of it. 3 stars
2/11/07 Michelle Cozzolino Would rather have watched paint dry; total waste of time 1 stars
2/10/07 Ema yes they picked top actors but the film was poor not a good likeness to motown! 1 stars
2/04/07 andyinindy Miserable. Wanted to walk out but strangely hypnotized by the carnage. Waste of 2 hours. 2 stars
2/04/07 liz cannot believe this thing is nominated for awards. bad bad bad. beyonce only good thing! 1 stars
2/02/07 zev absolute drivel a disgrace to motown 1 stars
1/30/07 sapphire think that eddie murphy is so fine in that movie and jeffer hudson is a good singer 5 stars
1/29/07 malcolm very good but i like more talking in movies, i bet it's amazing on stage 3 stars
1/29/07 brittany i hated this movie...a disgrace to motown and african americans. 1 stars
1/26/07 June Strueber Too shrill; nerve wrackingly unhappy people who one doesn't sympathize with. 3 stars
1/25/07 GinX Brilliant on the stage; loses a bit on the screen. Still worth seeing. 4 stars
1/25/07 chris plain awful. people walking out everywhere. only the simpletons were impressed. 1 stars
1/24/07 mara mara it was soo boooooooringggggggggggg 2 stars
1/24/07 Vee All hype! but if it wasn't for the dull-ass soundtrack I could forgive them it was PRETTY 3 stars
1/24/07 Suzz Ably brings back an era; great performances by Hudson and Murphy 5 stars
1/24/07 andrew pailate Haven't watched a movie with so many people walking out on it! I wish I was one of them! 1 stars
1/21/07 JUDY P. it was way too long. I liked the thrill of the beginning, but thats all 3 stars
1/20/07 fabe Eddie Murphy was the best. Jamie Fox was also good. I am liking him more and more. 4 stars
1/19/07 Paula H. Shallow characters, weak story, soul-less music. Bad adaptation of great stage production. 1 stars
1/19/07 Hollie Loved Eddie, but was disappointed with everything else!! 2 stars
1/19/07 Koitus Eddie Muphy was GREAT; Jimmie Fox was also good. Kind of an "eh" movie... 3 stars
1/16/07 Nora I was disappointed. Eddie Murphy was the best thing in it. 2 stars
1/15/07 Richard Unsympathetic characters. Boring music. Hudson screeches. 2 stars
1/14/07 Tanya This was almost as good as the original play 5 stars
1/13/07 Clayton The movie was subpar, at best, with a flimsy script, awkward directing and flat acting 2 stars
1/11/07 Keisha Tremendously overrated. Entertaining but the storyline was weak. 3 stars
1/09/07 Johnny Shack Hi Folks - I love music, but whn Hudson sang her loud piece, I wanted to jump out of my sea 2 stars
1/07/07 Brian F. Walked out along with another group. Awful songs, dragging plot. BLECH. 1 stars
1/06/07 Firpin The music was not R & B. It was terrible 1 stars
1/05/07 Emar The movie was great. Jennifer was outstanding. You are clueless! 5 stars
1/05/07 Kathy Rivers A bit confussing, trying to find any depth to the cast. 3 stars
1/01/07 Brittney This movie was really good! Jennifer did a great job! 5 stars
12/31/06 Shannon (Erik Childish is Fascist) Loved the Movie but did have story issues. Jennifer Hudson, first time acting...Brilliant! 4 stars
12/31/06 Allen Hackneyed, overrated, boring 2 stars
12/31/06 Angie This movie is all the hype & more! How could anyone not like it? I've seen it 2x; GREAT!!!! 5 stars
12/31/06 tina The over-the-top ballads made me cry, but the story line and acting was sometimes weak 4 stars
12/31/06 mz. nermalz this movie was phenomical. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the hype, but it did! 5 stars
12/31/06 Charlotte I was disappointed. The story wasn't compelling and the songs were average at best. 2 stars
12/30/06 Y. Nowlin How can anyone take a nap, during one of Jennifer Hudson's powerful performances? 5 stars
12/29/06 julie Was looking foward to a great flick...disappointed..Hudson was the best for sure 2 stars
12/29/06 Sally This is a Broadway musical about the 1960s, and a damn good one 4 stars
12/29/06 martin boring 2 stars
12/29/06 Greg L This movie's both a pastiche of Ross' 70s movies & a catalog of every showbiz morality tale 3 stars
12/28/06 Richard Naujoks This movie knocked me out- the reviewer doesn't like musicals-why is he reviewing it? 4 stars
12/28/06 M.J. Erik, don't be so mean. Those who can, do. Those who can't, criticize. 4 stars
12/28/06 Luisa The singing was good, but it got to the point where "ok enough already!" 3 stars
12/27/06 Carol Carney Why all the hype? Took a nap through it! 3 stars
12/27/06 fenixcarey Okay, so go see it again, take your shades off, turn your EAR PEACE up, then give a review 5 stars
12/26/06 Candice It's FICTION, Erick! See it for what it is, entertainment. 4 stars
12/26/06 Michael When Hudson's "Holiday" performance is called stank, then the wrong person is reviewing 5 stars
12/26/06 T.R. You are too knit picky, this is a musical!! Not a drama! 5 stars
12/26/06 Jeannie Blum I loved this movie. Your reviewer here seems determined to find problems with it. Too bad c 5 stars
12/26/06 Bobbi J. Hudson is an outstanding singer, but they should've let her sing different style songs 4 stars
12/21/06 steven lass Not even close to Jennifer Holliday's performance 3 stars
12/21/06 Lance White I loved it, and so did most of the audience in the theatre! 4 stars
12/16/06 Li Wright Some things I agree with, overall this is a stunning looking and sounding movie 4 stars
12/15/06 Sam Caldwell A Glorious Holiday Movie Worth Seeing 4 stars
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  15-Dec-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-May-2007



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Bill Condon

Written by
  Bill Condon

  Jamie Foxx
  Beyonce Knowles
  Eddie Murphy
  Danny Glover
  Anika Noni Rose
  Jennifer Hudson

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